UK Bill Says Tissue Can Be Taken Without Consent To Produce Clones

An amendment to the UK’s controversial Human Fertilization and Embryology (HFE) bill could allow tissue taken from children, the unconscious, and others deemed to be lacking in “mental capacity” to be used to create clones.

Under the amendment, if a person is deemed unable to give consent to the use of their tissue for cloning research, such as a child or a person in a coma, their care giver or a parent can make a decision on their behalf. If the person does not have a care giver or parent, researchers would nominate a person to make the judgement.

The provision also allows scientists to use human tissues already donated for research, perhaps during a medical procedure, even if the donor could not longer be located to give consent.

According to a report by LifeSiteNews, medical ethics experts and religious leaders are furious that the amendment, which they say rides roughshod over basic human rights, has already been agreed upon by an all-party committee of 17 MPs charged with scrutinising the bill, without any public debate or discussion in the main chambers of Parliament.

Professor David Jones, director of the Centre for Bioethics and Emerging Technologies at St Mary’s University College in London, told the Telegraph: “In May we had a public debate about whether or not it is a good thing to create hybrid embryos.

“Now it transpires that just weeks later, with no public debate at all, the Government inserted these amendments which cross a fundamental line in medical ethics by presuming consent in many cases. I think it is totally objectionable, and I really worry that this will create a backlash against medical research.”

Professor John Haldane, director of the Centre for Philosophy and Public Affairs at the University of St Andrews, described the draft legislation as a “mess” which would sweep away 25 years of progress in medical ethics.

“The most intimate thing over which you have control is your body and its fate; and this is total violation of that basic right,” he said.

The Society for the Protection of Unborn Children (SPUC) had predicted that presumed consent could be one of the many dangers of the government’s HFE bill. In a briefing on the bill, SPUC said the bill “weakens” the concept of consent in medical ethics and could result in tissue being taken from children or those who are unconscious and used to create embryos.

“This is a serious abuse of an individual’s genetic identity,” the SPUC said. It means that “a precedent is being set to allow people to be cloned without their consent.”

Dr. Ian Gibson, one of the members of the committee which passed the amendments proposed by public health minister Dawn Primarolo, said he feared that major changes were being made with little consideration by Parliament and almost no public debate.

“I am really worried that this whole debate has become hijacked by the issue of abortion, and that really significant issues like this have not had a good airing, and are unlikely to do so this week when the bill gets to its final stage, despite the fact this is a once-in-a-lifetime chance to make some fundamental decisions,” he said.

Dr. Gibson said he personally opposed any use of tissue without consent. “There has to be consent, there can be no substitution for it. If you are not sure it is what the person would have wanted, that is just not good enough,” he said.

Jim McManus, from the Catholic Bishops Conference of England and Wales, described the changes to the bill as a “macabre” prospect. He said: “This is a reckless step backwards, and it rides roughshod over a basic human right.”

A vote on the bill is expected sometime this evening.

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